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Morning Sunrise

Quick post today...but this picture was too pretty to share this morning, and it can only mean one thing, most blog posts on the way. Hold onto your hard hats friends, we're going for a ride!

Taiwan Food Challenge - The Final Countdown

If you've been following along on my blog for more than 2 minutes you've probably quickly realized that one of my favorite past times while traveling is eating...ok, if I'm being honest, it's one of my favorite past times even when I'm not traveling...but, you get the point! 

Almost 2 years ago I began first dreaming of this crazy adventure of moving to Taiwan and one of the first questions many people asked me was "what do they eat in Taiwan"....well, that's a good question, because I really have ZERO idea. So, naturally I began to do some research. That's when I ran into CNN's list of the top 45 foods to try in Taiwan, I did one of my first posts about Taiwan on that specific list, and was instantly hooked. 

Several months after living in Taiwan, I was proposed with the question of "well have you tried any of the foods on the list?" Oh my goodness, THE LIST! How had I forgotten?! I quickly went back to that old post of mine and realized that I had tried quite a chunk of them and that's when my challenge officially began. I did a 2 part blog post on the foods I had tried {post 1 is HERE and post 2 is HERE}. I've been growing increasingly homesick for Taiwan over the last couple weeks and it has brought me back to some of my older blog post and I decided to update you lovely reader on my list!

SO, I present to you CNN's Top List of Taiwanese Foods...in 12 months of Taiwan!   {blue foods are new additions!}

1. Braised Pork Rice - This night market staple is delicious, flavorful, and crazy cheap...definitely a must try (I'm not going to lie I could eat several helpings of this dish alone!)

2. Beef Noodle - There's a shop behind my house I've been to multiple times. Not bad, but I wouldn't give it rave reviews either...just as the name implies...soup with beef and a bunch of noodles, to me it's nothing novel.

3. Oyster Omelet - I just had to give this one a try despite its slimy appearance. It's an egg omelet with some sweet potato starch added in to get it a really texture and a spoonful of oysters inside. Depending on the vendor it's topped with some sort of sauce. This wasn't TERRIBLE, but it would have been tons better without the sweet potato starch!

4. Bubble Tea - Holy moly have I had bubble tea! You can read a whole post on this sugary loaded cup of goodness

5. Milk Fish - Check, check, and check. I had this one several times, typically at a person's home, it's fish, but honestly I didn't think there was anything crazy special about it. 

6. Slack Season Danzai Noodles - This is a restaurant specific item that I haven't made it to yet.

7. Pan Fried Buns - I love a good pan fried bun here! Walking through the markets looking for food can sometimes be a daunting task, but when you find a man selling some of these, you know you're in luck!

8. Gua Bao - Well, this was a learning experience for me! I’ve had this several time now and had no idea what it was called! It’s a sandwich made from a steamed bun (super soft and fluffy) and filled with some type of flavorful pork (I think belly). Not the most filling of foods as they are rather small, but they always hit the spot!

9. Iron Egg - I came, I saw, I conquered....and me no likely! I'm not 100% sure what they did to the poor egg, but LORDY was it beyond funky!

10. Pineapple Cake - Pineapple cakes what would I do without you! They are a signature item in Taiwan and one that people love to give as gift {and that I gladly accept!} For any of my Mexican family reading, the easiest way to describe these is the Taiwanese version of Barritas de piƱa {for those of you who have never tried either....I'm sorry for the sad world you must live in! :P }

11. Tian Bu La – molded fish paste…lordy, nothing should start with a description like that unless you work for the play dough company! We have this at lunch more than I’d necessarily like to admit. I can’t say that it’s a favorite, but I eat it.

12. Ba Wan – I finally tried these little suckers! I walked into a small street side "restaurant" (like seriously, it fit 8 people inside and didn't even have a door...I'm talking tiny here) just across the street from the train station and had NO idea what to eat and saw a person eating one of these. Having zero idea what it was I did what any logical person would do and told the guy working (in Chinese, hey hey!) that I wanted 3...haha {go big or go home}. Ba Wan...thanks for not disappointing! 

13.Fried Chicken - Ok, I know this one sounds funny, but guys, I'm pretty sure they put crack in their fried chicken here...it is beyond delicious! You can buy it at restraunts, at McDonalds, from lunch box shops, but my favorite is the street vendor chicken! There's a lady that stands outside of the school and has a fresh batch ready with sweet potato fries everyday when the kids let out, and I'm telling you it takes special restraint not to pay her a visit everyday!

14. Flaky Scallion Pancake / Green Onion Pancake - These green onion pancakes are a funky little thing but a great breakfast or late night snack. The are esentially a really thin pastery that they fluff up {I'm mesmerized watching them make them!} and mix with scallions. They are then often served with an egg and some type of spicy sause...you've got to try them!

 Oyster Vermicelli – can’t say I have

16. Stinky Tofu - Been there, tried that...no thanks! I'm not going to lie, when Josh was here he asked what was wrong with the sewers when we were walking through the market that you could smell them above ground...I politely informed him that he wasn't smelling the sewers, but rather the stinky tofu stand next to us...enough said!

17. Sweet Potato - Thank you 7-eleven and your endless supply of freshed baked sweet potatoes...I don't know where I'd be without you!

18. Shaved Ice
 – This deserves a place next to the friend chicken…how they can take a block of ice and make it taste so good is beyond me! This is literally shaved ice in which they put condensed milk on top and your choice of fruit (strawberries and/or mango are highly suggested though) and your mouth is suddenly in heaven!

19. Pepper Cakes
 – another good friend it’s nice to have a name for! My friends tease me about these, they know if I see them that I will have to get at least one! They smell so good and are cooked over an open flame making the crust on the outside of these cakes crispy and on the edge of being burnt and the insides with beef, pork, or cheese….mmm, so good!

20. Din Tai Fung Dumplings - simply some of the best soup dumpling I have had in Taiwan...I mean, I had my birthday dinner at this place...that's saying something! ;)

21. Fish Ball Soup
 – This is hand and hand with the shaped fish paste…I’ve eaten it, it wasn’t terrible, but seriously, what’s with all the fish paste!

22. Ribs Stewed in Medicinal Herbs – I’ll be honest here, I’ve had some of these “medicinal herbs” they tasted like cleaning solution…I’m not sure I want to venture into a cleaning solution flavored meat.

23. Goose
 – quack, quack! The goose here isn’t bad, and the dark sauce they generally serve it with is wonderful. Best yet, it’s the closest looking thing to a taco that I’ve had in Taiwan! They use a really really thin dough to put the goose and sauce in and roll it up like a taco to eat…score!

24. Ding Bian Cuo  Can’t say I have, but might be worth a try! Ding Bian Cuo

25. Taiwanese Sausage with Sticky Rice - all the STINKING TIME....favorite!

26. Mochi - Oh Mochi how I love you! This sticky rice paste ball almost always comes with a surprise of red beans or sesame seeds inside and makes my tummy oh so happy!}

27. Lantern Soy Sauce Braised Food - Again, this isn't fair! It's a food stand specific food...I'm going to have to go on a hunt in Taipei for this guy!

28. Sun Cakes - Mmmm sun cakes! {yes we have both moon and sun cakes here!} The first time I tried one of these my school director went to Taichung for the weekend where these pastries originated and brought me back one and I was hooked. The pastry is so flaky and buttery while the inside is filled with a creamy type malted sugar...it's a must try!

29. Tube Rice Pudding - Yes! Thanks Mason for finally ordering this so I could try it. But alas, it's exactly how it sounds. It's just typical rice, packed into a bamboo tube and then steamed within that...nothing special in my opinion, but another one for the books!

30. Taiwanese Breakfast - I mean I've lived here for 8 months...of course I've had breakfast lol. This is a pretty broad category, but I'll give their breakfasts a thumbs up a vast majority of the time!

31. Pig's Blood Cake - You may recall the first time I tried this food here that I thought I was going to get sick to my stomach. Well I'm proud {I'm not sure if that's the right word here!} to say that I've purchased many of these in markets since that day and have grown to love this snack! It's essentially a really sticky rice mixed with pigs blood and soy sauce and covered in a spicy sauce, peanut powder, and cilantro...delicious! 

32. Three Cup Chicken - Oh yes, Dragon Boat practice took care of this one for me! After practices they would always feed us SUPER traditional Taiwanese foods and always insisted that I try everything...let's just say I had some interesting meals this way!

33. Tamsui Agei - This Japanese snack sounds a little iffy to me! Tofu, fish paste, and bean noodles...can't say I'v heard of this one either. 

34. Ban Tiao - I learned something new! I've just been calling these Hakka noodles, but whatever you want to call them, this fat rice noodles with meat sauce on top are quite tasty and the perfect stomach filler!

35 Hot Star Fried Chicken - Ok CNN, no more restaurants for me to go on a crazy duck hunt for!

36. Cuttlefish - Yeah cuttlefish, it's one of those foods that walking through the market if you've never seen this before you just HAVE to ask what it is! They look like a cross between a squid and an octopus and in my opinion are quite tough for seafood. I'd eat it again if  I had to, but I'm not seeking these out in my spare time either. 

37. Aiyu Jelly - tasteless gelatin ...pretty much sums this up! Taiwanese people love to put this in teas, juices, and sweet soups. Can't say weather I like it or not as it honestly has not flavor! Just a jelly texture that Taiwanese people love so much! {fun fact, they call this texture QQ and you'll see it everywere!}

38. Pidan Tofu / Century Egg - Yeah, been there, done that, no thanks! These eggs are, by my understanding, put raw in a mix of surfer and I'm not sure what else to age. They come out looking hard boiled-isk (as in you can tell the shell off and still have an egg shape). But, the white of the egg now looks like brown jello, and the yok of the egg is green...I kid you not. I tried to be optimistic, I even gave it three bites...no thanks I'm good on this one now! The white was much better than the yok which I couldn't even choke down, but I'd be fine if I never ate another one again!

39. Steamed Spring Roll - Holy moley yes! Think of a deep fried egg roll from the United States. Now don't deep fry it so it's still fresh and crunchy...now may I introduce you to spring rolls?!?! Oh, and the peanut powder inside is just the perfect final touch!

40. Spicy Hotpot - Hot pot, what would Taiwan be without you! You order your flavor (in this case spicy) and they bring you a small pot of spicy broth and place it on a burner at your table. Once the broth is boiling they bring you a plate of raw meats, veggies, tofus, and seafood items to cook in the broth. You can then eat it as a soup or over rice (how I prefer it) and everything is cooked to your liking!

41. Tiger-Striped Chicken Gua Bao - Another restaurant to hunt down! 

42. Chicken Wing Rice Roll - Although this chicken wing/rice combo sounds intriguing, I can't say I've come across this yet. 

43.  Giant Pork Balls Soup - Pork ball (of any size) is quite popular in Taiwan and I've sampled this soup both at school as well as night markets. To me it's nothing out of the ordinary, but it's nice on a cold day. 

44. Wu Pao Chun Bakery Bread - Now they've got a bakery for me to find!

45. Biandang - Bento boxes. I was in love with these guys when I moved here! For $1.50 USD I could get a box with a piece of meat 2-3 veggies and rice all just by pointing since I knew ZERO Chinese! Now these convenience boxes are just that, an easy meal, and I rarely have them anymore, but they are ok in a pinch!

GRAND TOTAL after 12 months in TAIWAN - 35/45 or 78%

Not too shabby Taiwan...not too shabby! {And this only leads me to believe that I need to return to finish my quest!}

{What snacks would you want to try?!}

2016 in Review

I was so tickled pink with how my 2015 Year in Review infographic turned out, that there were no hesitations to creating a 2016 year in Review to follow up with! {If you missed my 2015 year in review you can check it out HERE}

Oooh buddy, if I thought 2015 was a crazy year full of changes, I clearly had ZERO foresight as to what 2016 was going to bring my way! I started off the year with some of the most amazing fireworks I may ever see in my life, followed by Caitlin's visit and then my amazing 2 week trek through Cambodia and Thailand that was surely a trip of a lifetime. Later in the year I was visited by Mason and my mom along with competing in my first ever Dragon Boat Races! I capped off my Asian adventures with a week in each Japan and China and checked off a huge bucket list item by camping on the Great Wall of China {I still can't believe those pictures are really me up there!}

I made the difficult decision early in the summer that I was going to say goodbye to Taiwan and move back to the United States. This started my marathon application process to schools across the state of Ohio complete with 3am skype interviews and the ever revolving door of questions as to why I wanted to move back home {truthfully, I miss it more and more each day I'm home}. I eventually found myself a wonderful 2nd grade teaching position back here in Ohio and phase 2 of "welcome home" stated as I frantically began to look for a home and vehicle {sadly my scooter was unshippable!} to adjust back to life in America.

It's been one heck of a crazy year 2016, but I thank you for all you have given to me!

Tokyo Highlights Video

Finally, I'm done with another video! Life keeps trudging on and my blog gets away from me, but I promise that I haven't forgotten {{and that I have even more adventures in store for you coming up!}}

After I finished my first Thailand video I was over the moon excited with how it turned out and just knew that I wanted to work on several others from my year abroad. But, they take time, and life keeps going {see above lol}....ok, no more excuses, without further ado, I present to you, My Tokyo Highlights!

If you missed any of my posts from Japan, you can check them out here! {Traveling & Day 1{Day 2 - Shrines} {Tokyo Disnyland} {Fish Market & Harajuku}

Beijing Bell & Drum Towers

Clearly life has gotten the best of me & 4 months have gone by since I landed back in the USA {{HOW HAVE 4 MONTHS GONE BY ALREADY???}} and I'm just now getting around to finishing my last 2 days in Beijing. 

July 12, 2016

Don't get me wrong, there were tons, TONS of things I didn't get to do in Beijing, but many of them were going to require more time than what an exhausted Tracy had remaining on the day we returned from hiking & sleeping on the Wall...so, we took it easy for the afternoon and checked off a couple last minute places within the city limits and enjoyed soaking up my last couple hours of exploring and living in Asia.

When I went to Tokyo, Japan earlier this year it was officially my first time ever traveling alone ALONE to a foreign country without knowing anyone when I stepped off the plane. Japan was country number one, and since I obviously survived, China quickly followed as country number two. Since I was traveling alone I became even more regretful for meeting great friends along the way through my overnight on the Great Wall!  Cameron & John ( from Connecticut) had an early flight the day we returned from the Wall so sadly we had to part ways with them, but Raphael from California, Lauren from the UK, Amy an Englisher living in New Zealand & I hit it off well and since we were all traveling solo, we spent much of the remainder of our times in China traveling and eating together...ok, let's be honest, I really do more eating than anything while I travel! 

This last post on Beijing is going to be more of a picture dump than a lovingly written out 7 page blog post, but I hope you enjoy these pictures as much as I loved and treasured my time in China!

The day after our big hike, we awoke around 4:30 am with the sun rising, the birds chirping, and our adrenaline pumping...we were waking up and starting our day on THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA! We were scheduled to begin our decent back the wall around 7:30 that morning, so that left us a good 2-3 hours to pack our things and of course, go for a morning hike. The 6 of us hiked to the end of the wall where the military had put up fencing to block hikers, about 0.5 miles from our campsite, and after  absorbing the last of the views and pinching ourselves one last time to make sure what we were seeing was really true, we packed our bags, loaded our gear onto our backs, and began our climb down. Another 2.5 hours in the van later, along with several MUCH deserved naps, and we were back in Beijing, and the heart of China. 

The 6 of us traded contact info, headed back to our hotels, showered, and were back together before we knew it to spend the afternoon sightseeing around Beijing some more!

{{first stop, the Beijing Bell Tower, built in 1272, this tower was used both for time keeping as well as musical instrument of sorts}}

{{the building was located just south of the forbidden city in the heart of Beijing}}

{{just as Lauren & I got to the tower we heard the bells begin to ring...we began to rush to the top of the tower...needless to say, these steps were NOT a welcome sight after climbing the Wall earlier this morning}}

{{we mad it just in time...to miss the show...luckily we went back up about 30 minutes later with Raphael & Amy and caught the show the 2nd time around}}

{{out of the original 25 drums (1 large & 24 small) only the large one remains and replicas of the smaller ones have been added}}

{{click above for a quick listen to the sounds of the drum tower}}

{{directly across from the drum tower is the Beijing Bell Tower also constructed in 1272 the tower has a huge painted bell at the top}}

{{views from the bell tower...look closely to spot the Forbidden City}}

{{after climbing & touring the 2 towers it was clearly snack time...and these fresh fruit popsicles more than hit the spot!}}

{{well...food...mango popsicle & warm yogurt drink}}

{{and after snack...clearly it's lunch time!...egg rolls && appatizers all around to share}}

{{I'm pretty adventurous when it comes to trying new food...but when you name your restaurant "Wang Pang Zi Donkey Burger" and boast of selling donkey burgers...I just have to laugh and shank my head NO thanks!}}

{{east meets west...asian arches framing a starbucks down the street!}}

{{clearly 3 hours after lunch we are famished again and ready for dinner...we spent the afternoon hunting around for a peking duck restaurant (did you really visit Beijing if you didn't eat peking duck?!) it must have been a legit peking duck restaurant as not a single waitress in the place spoke english, so we had to rely on our 50 some page menu filled with pictures and MY Chinese skills [aka terrible!] to order dinner for the 5 of us...including 1 whole duck}}

{{and when I say whole duck, I mean WHOLE duck...they cut the head off in front of you!}}

{{and it was SO worth it! peking duck is served in what I called duck tacos. You are given a super thin wrapper that resemble tortillas that is made from wheat, roasted duck, green onions & cucumber spears along with a fermented soybean sauce to dip your meat in. You roll everything up into the tiniest taco you ever did see and enjoy 1, 2, 3...ok, WAY too many of them!}}